Monday, April 30, 2007

We Tried to Pose the Dog This Way, but Settled for the Kid Instead

There may not be a Birth Story Part Deux yet, but there is this picture of the infamous boy with his less infamous parents, taken by the infamous Contemplative Photographer (a.k.a. Jim the Father).

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Birth Story, Part 1

Some folks have written, "Oh, dear Contemplative Chaplain, sweet kind and lovely woman who really doesn't look ten pounds overweight, do please tell us about the birth of your adorable son." So, of course I must oblige. And, actually, it was just one person and she is very nice and gives me way, way too much leeway in her requests. She knows who she is.

However, given the fact that I'm not so great about keeping Grayson's baby book up to date and recognize that this blog might be one of the only ways he knows his history, and that I seem to like sharing intimate details online, and some of you actually do wonder how this little person came into being, and I need a topic to write about, here goes.

As many of you know, I was getting frustrated beyond belief with the last stages of this pregnancy. The puking, my God the puking, which was supposed to end with the first trimester...the inability to make it up a flight of stairs without getting breathless...the fact that my belly was large enough that there was nowhere for the dog to sleep on the couch next to me anymore...the fact that I had to give up working at a job I love before it was technically "time."

On my first day of maternity leave, Karen the mother and I shopped like maniacal OCD women on ritalin. We hit Babies R Us for more receiving blankets, Target for a CD player for the baby's room, JC Penney for nursing bras, Olive Garden for lunch, Borders for just a few more board books to add to the already overflowing bookshelves, Macy's for hospital pajamas, and Starbucks for an afternoon snack (as we hadn't eaten in approximately forty-five minutes). And so, it was no surprise to me in the 70+ degree weather (the first warm spell of Indiana spring) that my feet were swollen to twice their size and my wedding band was cutting off circulation to my head (thus explaining the weird lightheadedness and visual disturbances).

On Tuesday, I decided to spend my day with my feet propped up on the couch. I, thankfully, decided to take off my wedding band (remember this detail for later), and moved hardly at all that day. When R. got home from teaching I moaned and groaned to him about water retention, being a beached-whale, yadda-yadda-yadda. He kissed me on the forehead and reminded me that I was, simply put, pregnant.

However, that swelling I mentioned, the feet and the hands. It did not go away. And my reassuring pregnancy tomes were no help. They all said, "Yes, swelling is normal in the third trimester, but if it doesn't go away overnight, perhaps you should call your doctor. Actually, listen to us and call your doctor Right Now. We mean it, don't pass go and don't collect twho hundred dollars, just call them now, fattie." On Wednesday morning, the feet could no longer fit into slippers and the fingers, they were adorable little sausages. I decided to heed the pregnancy tomes and call my doctor, twelve hours later than I probably should have (thank God I took off that wedding band, or it would have been sawed off...).

I, though, am a clean freak and had made an appointment to have the windows cleaned on that Wednesday morning. And, of course, I didn't want a doctor's appointment to interfere with my need for bird poop to be eliminated from my bathroom window. Certainly not. And so, despite my swelling, well, I had to get up at 8:00 a.m. for the nice cleaning men to come over. As they were concentrating on my windows, and as R. was grumbling about why I had agreed to such an early morning visit from the aforementioned cleaners, I decided to call the doctor. The very nice nurse on the phone listened to my predicament and said, " your shoes don't fit? And it has only gotten worse? Um...I don't want to alarm you, but we need you to come in RIGHT NOW. And, have you packed a hospital bag? Maybe you should throw it in the car, just in case." Oh. Well. Okay.

I lumbered up the stairs to tell R. who said cautiously, "Do you want me to stay home and go with you?" I was, in a moment of completely uncharacteristic anti-hypochondriasis, adamant, "'s probably nothing." Besides, the windows had just been cleaned and I certainly needed to enjoy them before blue jays had their way with them. I called my mother, gave her the scoop, told her it was probably nothing, hung up. Two minutes later she called back and said, "I think I'll just meet you there, so you're not alone." As the office was only a few minutes from her house I didn't object, figured she was just being an overprotective parent. I added a few more things to the "just in case" bag (included Constant Comment teabags, James Taylor CDs, and peanut M&M's) and zipped it up, kissed R. goodbye as he left for work, received the invoice from the window washers, put the dog in her crate, and hauled my pregnant belly to the doctor's office.

And now, dear readers, the baby is crying...and so...I leave you in suspense as you wait for Birth Story Part Deux. But ask yourselves, "Will she indeed be admitted to the hospital? And will R. get there in time if she does? Will she ever become unswollen? And will her windows be as clean as she hoped?" Tune in next time...soon.

Friday, April 27, 2007

1 Month

Remembering that imitation is the best form of flattery, I attempt my own feeble monthly letters to the one who has stolen my heart.

Dear Grayson,

Tomorrow you will be one month old. I look at the pictures of you from our luxurious spa-like stay at the hospital and marvel at how quickly you've grown. I have entered the world of parenthood, where children are constantly changing and morphing into new beings and there is little to do apart from pausing to shake one's head in wonder.

Here are things I have learned about motherhood in our short month together.
The things people say about developing "Mommy Brain," whereby one forgets names, places, details, to even use the restroom is true. I cannot believe how scattered I have become, how difficult it is for me to concentrate. Of course "Mommy Brain" could also be affiliated with its quite accurate counterpart "Sleep Deprived Zombie." This is difficult for one who feels called to a contemplative dimension. I have said very few prayers, as concentration is shot to hell. Very few prayers, that is, except for the one I breathe countless times throughout the day and night as I inhale your delicate baby scent, "Thank you, thank you, thank you."

Also, on a more practical note, I've learned that there are amazing contraptions, gadgets and gizmos for parents and babies. I marvel in slack-jawed wonder at whoever came up with the idea for the Diaper Genie. I would give him or her a sloppy wet kiss and a nice aged bottle of Glen Livet scotch if I only knew who to credit. And, as for sleepers that zip rather than snap? Nobel Prize to that person. Immediately. And pacifiers? Perfect name for them. Enough said. And in time to come when you have a baby of your own, if someone tells you that swings are a waste of time? Hit them. Hit them really hard. Oops...we're pacifists, and Brethren pacifists at that, so I guess you'll have to be really passive aggressive with them. Maybe "forget" to tell them about an important church meeting or something.

Weekends change when you are a parent, at least in this household. Because your father is teaching and facing the end of the year stress of most professors, I stay up with you on the weeknights while Daddy teaches the next day, and Daddy does weekend duty. Therefore, whilst in college Friday and Saturday nights were filled with excitement as my roommates and I pondered what parties or dances we might attend, what boys we would flirt with, or how many bottles of Boone's Farm wine we might consume, life has changed. It is equally thrilling to know that on a weekend night after a glass of chardonay (a benefit of not breast-feeding), I can retire at 8:00 p.m. and sleep a full twelve hours while you are tended by Daddy. I'm not sure I've ever had a more fulfilling weekend night. I'm hoping this changes by the time you're seven or eight years old, or else you're going to have a pretty pathetic mommy, perhaps the kind who wears stretch-pants and makes you wear headgear to your eighth-grade holiday dance.

It's probably important to apologize at this time for that nasty comb-over I've been giving you. Ever since your baby hair started falling out, I act as your self-appointed baby groomer and dutifully brush your locks across your gigantic chrome dome of a head (sorry, it had to be said). Both your grandfathers remind me that you are in good company, but I'm afraid your comb-over rivals that of my former high school algebra teacher, and for that I am oh-so-very-sorry. Please don't join the Eagle Forum or any of Phyllis Schaffly's minions to pay me back, as Mr. Becker was a card-carrying member of the aforementioned associations.

You don't do so much "social smiling" as the baby books call it. However, I chalk that up to your discerning mind. There simply hasn't been all that much to smile at yet, I mean, let's face it Geroge W. is still in office. Perhaps your first smile will peak in mid-January of 2009? Your father claims that you did indeed smile at him when he was making faces at you last night. But, as I am the primary caregiver for the time being, I would prefer to believe that it was just gas pains and that you are reserving that first big smile for the woman who wakes up with you at 3:00 a.m. five of the seven days of the week. Having said that, your father is pretty silly when he wants to be and there is no other person I'd smile at in the universe given my druthers.

You are, for all intents and purposes, an "easy baby" it seems. When you cry, you're pretty clear about why you're crying. However, it's hard not to laugh at your fast-breathing, overexaggerated hyperventilation if you're not fed IMMEDIATELY. You breathe, quick-quick-quick through your mouth in what sounds like a Lamaze exercise. Once the problem is addressed, and an Avent bottle inserted properly into your full baby lips you usually calm. You often lie in your cradle in the mornings and stare at the light above you as if to say, "Take me to your leader" and coo contentedly or grunt vigorously. You hate, hate, hate having your diaper changed and you hate, hate, hate the one who changes it...for about thirty seconds (your memory hasn't developed that much...have you considered that it could be sleep deprivation?).

As a rabid feminist, I continue to dress you in gender-neutral clothing (although I am cheap as well and take whatever hand-me-downs or gifts that anyone offers, so you do have lots of blues in your wardrobe). You wear lots of greens and yellows and puppies and bunnies, and still today at the eye doctor's office a sweet little old woman approached me and said, "He's a beautiful boy isn't he?" I wonder if she would have said the same if I had dressed you in your "Future Feminist" onesie?

You have developed a tender relationship with your big sister, B. She absolutely adores you and insists on picking you up and holding you as soon as she gets home. She changes your diapers, mixes your formula, feeds you, burps you, and comforts you. Keep this in mind, kiddo. She's got your back and in time to come you will have to refrain from embarassing her around significant others or annoying her with repeating the lyrics to the Barney theme song for hours at a time on our road trips to Texas to visit your beloved relatives there.

I am astounded by the utter joy you bring me. I am a more passionate activist, a more ardent feminist, a more earnest disciple because of the ways in which I want this world to be right for your generation.

I adore you beyond words.


Monday, April 16, 2007

The Secret Which Shall Remain Hidden

R. and I had our first post-baby date this past weekend and Grayson stayed home with Grandma and Grandpa. I prided myself on the fact that I left the house with no spit-up on my shirt, and that while I can not wear my pre-pregnancy jeans yet, I no longer have the tell-tale post-pregnancy pooch which signals to the world that I now live in the world of stretch pants and Similac formula and obsess about things like the consistency of baby poop. I also found it admirable that I only called home to check on him twice while we were out, although I did sigh often throughout the evening and say, "I wonder what the baby's doing..." to which R. would respond for the sixty-seventh time, "He's probably sleeping, Christen. I mean, really, what else does he do at this point?" (In Grayson's defense, he also poops and eats, so he does have a busy social calendar).

Some may find our first post-baby date unique, for we spent it at a place most new parents don't find themselves. We spent the evening whooping it up at a drag show. It was a wonderful, refreshing change of pace from our normal routine. The small-town college where R. teaches, had their sixth annual drag show sponsored by United Sexualities, an advocacy group which supports the rights of gay/lesbian/bi-sexual/transgendered students on campus. R. is one of the advisors for the group, and as such, was being honored at the drag show. It was a delightful evening filled with both hysterical and poignant moments. There is nothing more freeing than watching students feel comfortable celebrating gender in new and unlikely ways, regardless of their understandings of sexuality. I was unbelievably proud of my husband, as students thanked him for his advocacy for them, and for his gift of being a "safe" faculty member who accepts and celebrates them exactly as they are.

All the way home we reveled in the night, replaying our favorite songs in our minds, remarking on how talented the students were, and how honored we were to be invited into their world. R. wore his pink princess crown, the gift from his students, proudly as we came in the house to cradle our sweet boy, who was taking his final bottle of the night from his grandma. We waved R.'s coveted princess wand around Grayson's head, wishing for him a world where all people felt free to express themselves and know that they were accepted by a loving God into an open-minded world. I sat down the next day and carefully penned into Grayson's baby book the night his mom and dad went out for their first date after he was born, and where they were. I want him to know someday how important it was for us to be there. I want to paste the photo of us with happy smiles on our faces into the pages of his Pooh Memory Book.

However, there is a secret which shall remain hidden throughout Grayson's life. A secret I breathe here only because I know that you, my sweet readers can hold it carefully and not breathe a word of it to my boy ever. The secret is this: for Grayson's very first outing, the first time he was allowed out of the house, we went to...Wal-Mart. It couldn't be helped. We needed formula desperately and it was the closest location in a pinch. And we did try to salvage the experience by having R. stay in the car with him while playing some Arlo Guthrie on the CD player to help counteract the Wal-Mart influence. However, in time, when my sweet baby grows up and asks in all innocence, "Mommy, where was the first place you took me after I was born?" I will calmly respond, "To an anti-war rally, followed by a trip to the organic market for non-fat soy lattes, and then a stop at the library to check out all the Booker Prize winners, and oh yeah, then we went to a drag show, and you my boy, opened your eyes wide in sheer wonder at all the sparkly sequined costumes, and your father and I smiled."

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

And I Am Not the Same

This baby lies across my back, milk-drunk. A sleepy smile, some automatic reflex, spreads across his crooked lips for an instant, followed by a scowl. His eyes dart around behind their lids. What must babies dream of? Giant breasts? Or in the case of Grayson, Avent bottles circling around him madly bidding him to feast the wonders of Similac formula?

I have learned that time passes quickly in the presence of an infant. Already I see miraculous changes in him. He is different than two weeks ago when he hardly opened his eyes. Now he watches, and his eyes cross and focus and refocus. Time passes quickly for mothers too, or at least for this mother. I begin to gaze at him as he lies asleep in my arms, and I look up and ten minutes has passed and I wonder if the clocks are wrong. I remain fixed on his face, amazed that I could love something so fiercely, so protectively.

Throughout my CPE experience (for those of you not in the chaplaincy business, CPE is the crucible which either kills or shapes you as a chaplain, it's the drill camp of hospital work, the grunt work whereby you are overworked and underpaid and taught that you will learn to love it), I was reminded that I did not completely fathom the love that God had for me, that I could not completely accept God's grace in my own life. Once, in my consultation interviews, the Spanish Inquisition/Therapy Session which brings you to the core of yourself, someone who had read my portfolio but didn't know me well said, "Christen, can you imagine God loving you as a loving parent cradles their newborn?" And I said, "I think so." But I was wrong, because the love I have for this helpless child stops me in my tracks. It makes me catch my breath. And I realize how impossible it has been for me to fathom God's love for me.

This is all so startlingly new. I am exhausted. I am exhilirated. I am not the same.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Life is Indeed Good

Another baby for peace.

Birth stories and particulars to come...